rugby Union: Wales win World Cup vote

Paul Trow reports on the result of the battle to stage the 1999 event
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WELSH rugby is preparing for the biggest sporting event in the Principality since the 1958 Commonwealth Games after winning the race against Australia for the right to host the 1999 World Cup.

After a season which has seen Wales slip from champions to potential wooden spoonists in the Five Nations' Championship, their rugby pride has been dramatically restored. Last night, the International Board announced in Bristol that the tournament, the fourth in the quadrennial series, would be staged by Wales with the final taking place at the National Stadium, Cardiff in November 1999. The decision was not expected until Tuesday, but Vernon Pugh, the chairman of the International Board and the Welsh Rugby Union, broke the news ahead of schedule.

The Welsh-led bid, in harness with the other three home unions and France, won a majority vote at the IB council meeting. The matches will therefore be spread around the countries which contest the Five Nations' Championship, with England staging both semi-finals at Twickenham.

The bid by the Australians, in conjunction with Japan and New Zealand, failed to attract sufficient backing, and it seems that the decisive vote in favour of Europe was cast by Italy, whose favours were being courted vigorously in the run-up to the IB meeting by both candidates.

As the host nation, Wales will not only stage the final but also the third place play-off. The National Stadium will also be the venue for a quarter-final match as well as all the Welsh pool games. In addition to the two semi-finals, England will stage one of the five pools of four teams while Scotland, Ireland and France will each host a pool, a quarter- final and a quarter-final play-off match.

Pugh said the decision, which means the World Cup will continue to alternate between the southern and northern hemispheres, had been made "for the best of reasons". "We received two very high quality presentations," he said. "Either one of the two unions bidding for the World Cup would have ensured a fine tournament. The standard of the presentations made it a difficult decision. I would like to congratulate Wales and add my personal compliments to Australia for the hard work which went into their bid and will surely stand them in good stead for the future."

Sir Ewart Bell, chairman of the Rugby World Cup, said: "It is a big step forward to have the venue decided four years in advance. This will allow the organisers time to plan what will undoubtedly be a highly successful tournament."

Pugh added: "This is an important day for Wales. It is a great achievement because after all we are only a small nation. Everybody should be pleased at the decision and it is now a time for celebration. We now have something to look forward to in 1999. It will be good to promote the game in Wales and I'm confident that we can not only stage the tournament, but also go on to win it. I have no doubt the talent is there and that by 1999 we will have got it right. It is just a case of promoting the game."